If you are responsible for growing your service business, you are in Sales.  Maybe not product sales but certainly you are selling services.  Also, you probably depend on the sales organization to initially sell service contracts, or other services, along with the product.  So, for these two reasons, you had better understand what B2B selling actually means in the late 2010’s (i.e., NOW!).

You Bet Your Job

The first thing you must internalize is that the buyer, or the buying committee, is risk adverse.  A large part of the buying decision is based on mitigating risk for the people involved in the purchase decision and the business.  IDC recently shared some data that indicated that 28% of C-Suite executives rate risk avoidance as their number one objective.

When I have one-on-one talks with decision makers, they say that they feel that when making some purchasing decisions, their job is on the line.  They feel they will get fired, or at least have their career put on hold, if the decision yields a bad result!  I modified this “ancient” television sign to update it to current norms.

Once you internalize what the buyers are feeling, you can move on to the four things you must do to help them and your business.

Create Customer Value 

Without getting theoretical or philosophical, I will state with absolute certainty that no one will purchase anything unless she receives benefits worth more that they cost.  The benefits can be quantifiable, i.e., reduce cost, grow revenue, or improve products or processes, or they can be emotional, i.e. save time, improve experience, or rebuild the company’s image in the marketplace.

It is critical to recognize that the actual value you and your business create only exist in the mind of the buyer.  If your service increases equipment uptime, you can suggest the financial benefit but only the buyer can assign a benefit that is valid for the purchasing company at the time of the assessment.

Because situations constantly change, the benefit also changes.  For example, if you are selling a widget that increases production by 10% per day and the company already has a large inventory of the item and orders are dribbling in, then your widget is not very valuable.  But, if the next day the widget is highlighted at a National trade show and the video of the demo goes viral, the buyer may need to purchase two or more widgets from you.

Value is also relative to all other options.  If your widget increases the customer’s output by the same 10% per day as above, and a competitor offers their widget+ which increases output by 15% and costs 5% less than your widget, then all other things being equal, your product is essentially worthless to that buyer!

Earn Short-Term Trust

Trust is a strange emotion.  There are many books that tell you how to create trust but emotions, like value, depend on the current circumstances and I just do not trust (sorry for the pun) a book to be able to deal with the range of human emotions.

The reason that earning the buyer’s trust is so important is you need them to carry your message throughout their individual organizations and you are asking them to place their jobs at risk.  They will only carry the message if they have complete confidence that you are telling the whole truth and that the benefits you and they jointly develop are safe.

It is not unusual with very large proposals for the seller to hire an independent third party to confirm all the assumptions and understandings and to calculate the benefits and return on investment (ROI).  The seal of approval, plus all the trust you created during the early selling process, work together to create enough trust for the buyers to want to move forward.

Build Long-Term Trust

This is different from short-term trust.  This is all about giving your prospect the confidence that your business will be viable during the complete lifecycle of your product.
Q. How long can a piece of B2B capital equipment be used and hence, needs support?
A. Longer than you think.
Here are a few examples:

From SunPower, a manufacturer of solar panels

SunPower Corporation (“SunPower”) warrants that for 25 years beginning on the Warranty Start Date1 (the “Warranty Period”), its photovoltaic modules specified above (“PV Module(s)”), shall be free from defects in materials and workmanship under normal application, installation, use and service conditions, and the power output of the PV Modules will be at least 95% of the Minimum Peak Power2 rating for the first 5 years, and declining by no more than 0.4% per year for the following 20 years, so the power output at the end of the final year of the 25 year warranty period will be at least 87% of the Minimum Peak Power rating.
 
That is correct – 25 years!  And the buyers have to trust that the seller will be in business at least that long to honor any warranty.

Extracts from IRS Publication 496 (2016) How To Depreciate Property:

3-year property

  • Tractor units for over-the-road use.

5-year property

  • Computers and peripheral equipment or any property used in research or experimentation.

7-year property

  • Agricultural machinery and equipment.
  • Office furniture and fixtures
  • Any property that does not have a class life and has not been designated by law as being in any other class.

10-year property

  • Vessels, barges, tugs, and similar water transportation equipment.

As you can see, most B2B capital equipment can be depreciated over seven years.  But…

From the Real World

Many products have a useful life that far exceeds the allowed depreciation time.  Some examples are:

Machine tools – software, controls, and sensors may undergo upgrades but the motors, castings, and power handling last for a very long time.
Analytical equipment – the rate of change of many instrument classes has slowed to a crawl.  There is little room for innovation and even when there is innovation, many labs keep the old stuff because it is “good enough.”  Think scales, mixers, and pipetting equipment.
Transportation equipment – think about the age of the US Air Traffic Control System or the jet plane you just flew on.

When companies make a buying decision, they look at the service record and reputation of all the qualified suppliers and ask themselves “will this business be around in 10 to 15 years and will they be ready, willing, and able to service and support this equipment?”  That is why so many IT buyers stick with IBM.  IBM has been servicing its products for over 100 years and no one doubts that they will continue to do it as long as someone will pay.  In other words:

Communicate How You Create Value

You know your solution offers a significant benefit and you have developed real trust with the buying team.  The last step is to communicate the value proposition so the people you are dealing with can become your internal champion.  This is a big deal because everyone is trying to mitigate risk and the internal people will believe the buying team because they don’t know or have a relationship with you.

This is where you pull your story together.  You share your value proposition, the third party ROI calculation, and the service and support history of the selected supplier.  You give them whatever information they require to feel comfortable.  They carry your flag.  Not because they love you but because they need the business results they will obtain from owning and using your products and services.

If you did your job properly during the whole process, you will receive the order you had forecast, earn whatever emotional and monetary praise you deserve, and be told to go out and do it again.

 

Such is live as a product or services sales professional.